Carl Banks' Blog

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Big Ten Division Names

The newly expanded Big Ten Conference recently had a major flub by calling the names of the new football divisions the "Leaders" and "Legends" division. Commisioner Jim Delaney announced after a few days that they would reconsider because of absolutely terrible approval ratings from fans (under 10%).

Well, I have the perfect name for the divisions. There is no arguing about this, I have the answer that no one can possibly be opposed to, no one will think is lame, and will give us a catharsis.

Patrick Division Norris Division
Illinois Iowa
Indiana Michigan
Ohio State Michigan State
Penn State Minnesota
Purdue Nebraska
Wisconsin Northwestern

Who can possibly say no to that. Everyone rued the day when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettape decided to get rid of the old hockey division names in favor of bland geographical name, but now the Big Ten can carry on the legacy.

It also covers the most likely geographic areas for future expansion (New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and, alas, Missouri).

Main disadvantage is some teams (Illinois most probably) might be upset about no being in the Patrick division. But tough, Northwestern's closer to Chicago. Minnesota and Michigan are both in the Norris. Penn State is in the Patrick. Other states didn't have a hockey teams so it doesn't matter as much which division they're in.

There's the minor issue that Big Ten doesn't sponsor hockey (yet), but the division names are really a cultural thing.

So there you have it. I dare anyone to argue that this isn't the best division names possible. Go ahead.

Update: With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, Illinois can move over to the Norris Division, while Maryland and Rutgers can join the Patrick division.

Tags: big_ten, division_names, sports
Last Edited: 18 December 2010, 2:46 PM
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All right, I might as well weigh in on this Wikileaks controversy that everyone's talking about, and by everyone I mean media klaxons.

Well, the fact is, so far all they've released is kiddie secrets. Wake me up when they publish some real secrets.

Seriously: Wikileaks published 250,000 classified documents a few weeks ago, and the most alarming thing the media could come up with is a straw poll of American diplomats asking them what locations they think are important to American interests, as if terrorists have no other way to guess what sites might be important to America.

And, with nothing else in those documents to raise an alarm over, the media falls back to wailing about how bad it is that some ambassador might feel embarrassed. Give me a break.

The American government and military, you'll notice, didn't exactly come crashing to its knees. Their main reaction to the Wikileaks seems to be to try stop it before anything worse happens [1]. Aside from reasonable tightening of data security, even that might be unnecessary.

Wikileaks got its most recent cache of documents from some low-ranking enlisted assclown in the Air Force, who downloaded them from a server open to certain people with clearance. Do you really think any important secrets would have been accessible to this guy?

Wikileaks could have gotten, or could be able to get, more imporant secrets than they've released to date [2]. No secret is 100% secure and you never know what people might have up their sleeve, but given what Wikileaks has revealed so far and how they obtained it, I'd say the actual threat of important information being leaked in the future is, at best, modest.

I want to make it clear that I do not support Wikileaks, but honestly, what they've done so far is not worth worrying about [3].


[1]I might add that their approach of trying to find an excuse to capture Julian Assange is quite possibly counterproductive: making a martyr out of this guy might inspire more people to reveal more secrets, but I'll hold my final judgment on that for now.
[2]I don't expect that encrypted "insurance" file to be any more dangerous than what they've released so far. More embarrassing, probably. But if there were anything really juicy in there Assange would have been smart to hint at what it was, yet it seems that he didn't. So I think it's more or less a bluff. But we'll see.
[3]I should also point out that Wikileaks has been in operation for about ten years, and nobody cared about it until they started leaking American secrets, and by nobody I mean no media klaxons. They've released documents about many other countries and organizations, including the Taliban, and those were important secrets. But I would think it's a little easier to get important secrets from the Taliban or Uganda then from the U.S. But who knows?
Tags: media, wikileaks
Last Edited: 10 December 2010, 9:03 PM
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Food Chain of College Sports Realignment
Tags: college_sports, conferences, sports
Last Edited: 5 December 2010, 10:41 PM
Ben wrote: I was just thinking of something like this, specifically how 2 losses in the SEC are treated like 1 loss anywhere else
Carl Banks wrote: Ben: this chart is actually about realignment. I.e., when a conference expands what conference does is grab new members from. That's why the Big East is shown feeding off the Big XII; it's poised to grab what's left of the Big XII North but it certainly doesn't have better teams. As for who's better, it changes every year, despite the assertions of SEC fans who think time began in 2006. Remember, in 2005, zero losses in the SEC was treated like one loss in the Pac Ten and Big XII. [Note: I've since changed the title.]

The Grapes of Wrath

I've often observed that a lot of people have an almost hostile cynicism to anything more sophisticated than ordinary. Whenever a movie tries to be a intelligent, whenever it tries to pass up the common banal snarky dialogue and obligatory shots, whenever it tries to use camera work and writing to tell a more profound story, these people will roll their eyes and say, "That director's full of himself." Or, if an actor is acting his part with power to reflect the intended power of the scene, they'll say, "That actor's full of himself." If a novelist tries to pretty up her writing style, and to adopt a tone beyond mere storytelling, they will say, "That writer's full of herself." If an artist sculpts a creature that doesn't exist, if a songwriter creates a beautiful harmony with a new instrument, if a painter paints something in a different color to symbolize sadness, they will roll their ways and say, "Those people are so full of themselves." Anything that these people believe is "high-falootin'" they denigrate and treat with scorn.

I am not like this. If anything I'm the opposite: I'm cynical of the ordinary, or rather, of contentment with the ordinary. It doesn't mean I respect anything out of the ordinary (I'm looking at you, people who cast simple cubes out of iron and claim that it represents the suffering of Bengali farmers), but whenever a work tries to be something more profound than ordinary, I respect it, even if it doesn't quite succeed.

John Steinbeck's novel, The Grapes of Wrath is a work that does try to be sophisticated like this. The chapters of The Grapes of Wrath alternate between an ordinary narrative style, and a non-narrative style that Steinbeck uses to highlight the deeper meaning of his work. And all I have to say about it is this: John Steinbeck is full of himself.

He's a great narrative writer, and I enjoyed the narrative chapters quite a bit. The best of his non-narrative chapters were the "essay" chapters, the ones where he used full sentences and spoke directly to the reader. Especially good is Chapter 25, the chapter where the words "the grapes of wrath" appear a metaphor for growing discontent among the working class.

But for the rest of his non-narrative chapters: wowsers. They were bad. It seemed as if he had this idea that he would alternate between narrative chapters and essays, but it turned out that there much more story to be told than there were lessons to be learned, and so he had to find aw way to tell the story in a non-narrative style. And the result was not good.

The chapter where the car salesman keeps wishing he had more jalopies was probably the worst thing I've ever read. It was the stream of the car salesman's thoughts, and I don't think Steinbeck used a complete sentence once in the whole chapter. I guess the point was that evil salesmen don't think complete thoughts, or something like that, but it was poorly done and pretentious. To make matters worse, its storytelling function was confused, since you don't know if the people he's bargaining with are the Joads or not, since you never know if Steinbeck is talking specifically or in general.

Besides the ridiculous quasi-narrative chapters like these, there was another thing Steinbeck used to get his non-narrative chapter count up, an old classic: filler. Such as the whole chapter devoted to a turtle crossing a road. Now, of course the turtle's trek was really a metaphor, and can credit Steinbeck for finding a creative solution to technical problem, but let's not kid ourselves into thinking this wasn't filler.

Overall, the book was a good read and Steinbeck has written a profound work that makes us think about how we treat our fellow people, but when it came to the non-narrative chapters he was totally full of himself.

While we're at it, we might as well deconstruct one of the "lessons" from The Grapes of Wrath a little. In the story, after the Joads have had some trouble with the law in some of the labor camps, they find a government-run camp that treats them like actual human beings. The Joads are even introduced to amenities they never had in better days in Oklahoma, like toilets.

Now, it's clear what Steinbeck was trying to suggest here. But let's look a little more deeply at this. In the government camp, the people were treated with dignity, but no one had work. And once the Joads' money ran out, they had to hit the road, and find work with the dehumanizing corporate plantations. But then, though they weren't living well, they at least got to eat, and even had a little leftover to small luxuries (Cracker Jack).

So. Capitalism treats people as much like dirt as it can get away with, and it requires the Socialism to force it to treat people like human beings. But in a Socialist utopia, there is no production so no one eats. So the lesson here is: if you want dignity, you need Socialism. If you want to eat, you need Capitalism. And if you want both... well you can figure it out. I think it's a great (if simplified) lesson. I just don't think it was the lesson that Red commie socialist Steinbeck intended.

Tags: john_steinbeck, literature, the_grapes_of_wrath
Last Edited: 21 November 2010, 8:55 PM
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Many Worlds interpretation is crap

The universe, to the best of our scientific knowledge, is non-deterministic. This pisses a lot of scientists off.

The field of quantum mechanics studies many situations where particles seem to behave as if they were in two places at once, or (equivalently but a lot more weirdly) where the same event happens at two different times. Scientists can infer this behavior by observing effects like interference patterns [1], but they never actually detect the particle in both places: whenever they try to observe the particle, they only ever detect it in one place. And here's the kicker: which of the two places the particle is observed is indeterminate, there's no way to predict it. All you can do is make statistical observations (such as: it'll zig 40% of the time, and zag 60% of the time [2]).

Erwin Schrödinger tried to explain this paradox as "wave function collapse". What he suggested was that the particle is in both places at once, but when the particle is "observed" (meaning: when it directly interacts with another particle) its existence collapses into a single location. The wave function is a probability of which location it will collapse to.

However, most scientists (Schrödinger included, who gave us a tongue-in-cheek large scale consequence of that explanation) don't like not being able to predict things. Albert Einstein was perturbed by this explanation; he once said "God does not play dice with the universe".

In the years since Einstein and Schrödinger's heyday, another explanation has come into fairly wide acceptance, one that eliminates the indeterminacy (and, thus, the scientists' own sense of inadequacy). What they claim is that, yes, the particle does exist in two places at once, but when the particle is observed, the wave function doesn't collapse. Instead, the universe splits: and in one universe, the particle is observed in one location; in the other universe, the other location. This supposedly happens every single time a particle with multiple quantum states interacts. This is known as the Many Worlds interprtation.

I'll cut to the chase. Scientists should run away screaming from this explanation because what they've done is asserted the existence of universes where where God demonstratably exists, which is a no-no for any respectable scientist [3].

You see, although quantum effects are small, they do have large scale consequences. If all quantum possibilities are realized, then there is a universe somewhere where all the particles zag in such a way that their cumulative effect results in demonstratable benefits to people who pray to a certain god, and scientists in that universe measuring this effect will have to conclude that that god exists.

Not only that, but there are universes like that that will branch off this one. If Many Worlds is true, then there is a universe branching from this one where scientists will wake up to discover that a plague has appeared that attacks everyone but Christian fundamentalists. Richard Dawkins, Steven Jay Gould, and Carl Sagan will have to eat their crow in that universe. (I realize that last two have died, but they aren't dead in that universe. Although the universe we're talking about did branch off this one, various quantum effects combined in such as way so as to restore life to their bodies, and they rose from the grave, just in time to see a plague attack everyone but Christian Fundamentalists.) They can at least take solace in the fact that there's another universe out there with a plague that attacks only Christian Fundamentalists.

According to Many Worlds, universes have been branching off in the past. So it might comfort you to know that in some world out there you did ask that girl to the prom, but it probably wouldn't comfort you to know that in some other universe out there you were hit by a car and spent your whole life living as a quadriplegic.

It's also likely, accoring to Many Worlds, that you're immortal. Many theories on aging put at least part of the blame on the gradual chemical breakdown of molecules in the body. If all quantum possibilities are realized, then in some universe those chemical breakdowns will not occur, and you'd live forever, or at least until the world ends. Which sounds nice, perhaps, but that forever could be in a dungeon.

Enough silliness. I believe Many Worlds is crap, for various reasons, including some which are personal to me and can't rationally be demonstrated to others. But the Many Worlds interpretation should be rejected by science as well.

The fact is, Many Worlds is not a scientific theory or hypothesis, because it can be neither verified nor falsified (apart from falsifying quantum mechanics altogether). Whether the Many Worlds interpretation, or some other interpretation, such as the Copenhagen interpretation that Schrödinger wrote of, is "correct", has no bearing on science. Either interpretation results in the same observable predictions. Whether the wave function collapsed, or you are observing from Universe A, you are going to observe the same result.

The simple truth is, Many Worlds is a philosophical statement and not a scientific one. And philosophically it is the interpretation most opposed to science, because it asserts the existence of worlds where science is worthless. That is far, far worse than an interpretation that allows for mere indeterminacy.


[1]Interference happens when two similar waves interact. If the waves line up in certain ways, they will cancel out in some places and reinforce each other in other places, and create moire patterns on much larger scales than the waves themselves. The strange thing about interference at quantum scales is that particles—which are just tiny waves—seem to interfere with themselves. For example, a single electron passing through a barrier with two closely spaced slits will show an interference pattern as if the electon had passed through both slits simultaneously.
[2]Because quantum scales are so small, most of these quantum indeterminacies are smeared out at our familiar human scales. If you know that 40% of electrons will zig, and 60% will zag, and you have 10 quadrillion electrons, you pretty much know what the large scale effect will be, even though the behavior of individual particles is random.
[3]This is sarcasm, or would be if it weren't more or less believed by most scientists, despite what they may say.
Tags: indeterminacy, many_worlds, quantum_mechanics, science
Last Edited: 6 November 2010, 11:27 PM
jonimethfan wrote: Many Worlds clearly sucks because it requires a single quantum event to be exothermic enough to 'create' a whole new universe like our own. I understand that wave functions experience all possible actualities continuously, but that the cardinality of those possibilities is not even countably infinite and that consequently the possible energy release is likely to be small and finite rather than cosmically enormous.
jonimethfan wrote: In any 'Many Worlds' infiniverse, Each universe would consist of a single quantum event (Think it through!) This is contradicted by the macroscopic reality of human consciousness. To paraphrase Descartes: 'I think therefore 'Many Worlds' is bullshit'.

My 2010 Election Day ballot

For only the fourth time I cast an election ballot. Part of the reason I rarely voted was to avoid jury rolls, partly it was that I never cared. However, for the first time I am living somewhere I think I might want to stay in for more than two years, and I am kind of over the bad experience with jury duty (I was summoned several times a year while in college when I was never at home), plus I'm not stupid/emotional enough to be selected for a jury. So voting is a bit more important for me this year.

Nevertheless, the main reason I voted this year was to get rid of Barbara Boxer.

All the rest of my votes were for ballot measures because I don't really know who anyone else is. Here they are:

US Senate: Carly Fiorina
I do not like Fiorina, not one bit, but anything to get Boxer out.
Prop 19: No
The legalize marijuana prop. I am receptive to the idea that the cost of enforcement isn't worth it, and I expect it'll be legalized some day (small amounts are already decriminalized under state law). But radical change is not (and rarely ever is) the answer, and I'm not convinced it's as harmless as the activists say it is. Let this change come about gradually.
Prop 20: Yes
Have a commission draw legislative districts instead of the state legislature. Emphatic yes, though I don't expect anything to really change.
Prop 21: No
An $18 surcharge on car registration to pay for state parks and stuff. No, you want to fund that stuff, grow some spine and make it a tax.
Prop 22: Yes
Disallows the state from taking money allocated to local distribution (or something like that, it's hard to explain in less than ten paragraphs). Yes, but I have doubts.
Prop 23: No
Whether to suspend air pollution laws until unemployment falls to below 5.5%. No, not worth it, the air pollution is way too bad here.
Prop 25: No
Allow state to pass a budget with a simple majority instead of a 2/3 majority. Emphatic No. I think needing 2/3 of the legislature to approve spending is a good thing, if only it wasn't easy to get around.
Prop 26: Yes
Require some state fees to be approved by 2/3 of the legislature. Tax increases already require a 2/3 majority, this was a loophole that needs to be plugged.
Prop 27: No
Abolish the electoral redistricting commission. Emphatic No. The commission was created to get politics out of redistricting, which is a good thing.
Santa Monica Measure Y: No
This was a 0.5% sales tax increase, bringing the tax to 10.5%. Sales tax is stupid and regressive, and the reason we need this tax is laughable in a wealthy city like Santa Monica.
Santa Monica Measure YY - No
Advisory measure whether to divert half the revenues from Measure Y to schools. The school district's reasons for being "broke" are even more laughable than the city's.
Tags: california, election, jury, santa_monica, voting
Last Edited: 2 November 2010, 9:39 AM
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When you were in grade school, do your remember those two girls who were know-it-all brats? Those two girls who would do things like invent words to insult you with? You'd be standing behind them in line for recess, and they'd turn to you and say, "You're glooble". And you'd be like, "What does glooble mean?" And they'd say, "We're not telling you", and then they'd giggle to each other. You know those two girls?

Well, in my grade school one of those girls had a mother who was always signing up to assist the class in some way, and you could see where her daughter got her annoying personality. This woman had matured past the point of inventing insults, but had the same know-it-all personality. She was also at every field trip, every class party, every play not matter how small, and oftentimes she was in class doing something for no apparent reason at all, thinking that her presence and wisdom was making the classroom a better place.

About every month she baked cupcakes and sent them to the class. They were probably the worst thing I've ever eaten, and not one time did she vary the recipe even slightly. The best way I can describe the cupcakes is a hellspawn offspring of fruitcake and cornbread. The cake was dry and crumby, and it was baked with disgusting, soggy fruit (which tasted like a cross between circus peanuts and prunes). I'm pretty sure it was made with four-year-old whole wheat flour, because it was rancid, and it might have had ground flaxseed mixed in or something. And then, to top it off, she would mix some disgusting candy into the icing, based on the current month's theme (like on February when it was those Valentine heart things, ick).

I wasn't allowed to refuse to eat the cupcakes, because that would be "disrespectful". Some people in the class would lick the icing off and discreetly hide the cake part to throw away later, but the teachers always kept their eyes on me and forced me to eat every single one of those things.

Well, needless to say, ever since I've hated cupcakes. And, since this was maybe around the 20th worst experience I had in grade school, I kind of forgot the reason.

Well, it's not like my hatred of cupcakes was a crippling problem in my life, since adults, and teenagers for that matter, rarely eat cupcakes. So it happened that nearly 25 years after my horrid experience with cupcakes, I was sitting in Swinger's Diner in Santa Monica, which had delicious-looking cupcakes on display right in front of me. I knew I never ate cupcakes and I couldn't recall why at the time, but I figured it probably wasn't a good reason, so I ordered one. Damn that thing was good; it was much, much better than a regular cake. I think the high surface-to-volume ratio has a subtle effect on the cake dough as it's baking; the heat penetrates it better meaning that you can achieve the optimal doneness over a larger percent of the cake.

I think I also have to add cupcakes to the list of foods endemic to the culture of Los Angeles. There are bakeries in LA devoted just to cupcakes and I've never seen that anywere else. The list of foods is:

  • Hamburgers
  • Tacos
  • Cupcakes

(Some people say to add sushi to this list but sushi seems to be a bigger source of civic pride down the road in San Diego.)

Anyway, in the last couple weeks I've eaten a few cupcakes and they were all very good, so I am now a true fan of cupcakes. I am also happy to finally be getting over some of the hang-ups I developed in grade school. I better be careful or I might end up liking tomatoes....

Tags: cupcakes, grade_school, los_angeles
Last Edited: 30 October 2010, 8:02 PM
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Its—the possessive form of it—should be spelled with an apostrophe

It's supposed to be simple. The word "its"—the possessive form of it—is spelled without the apostrophe because it's a pronoun, even though it is a regular possessive. That's the rule: nouns spell their possessives with an apostrophe, pronouns don't. Simple and sensical, isn't it? Do you agree with this rule? I bet you do, because every single person I've had this discussion with has thrown this argument at me. "'Its' is a possessive pronoun," they say, "so it should be spelled without an apostrophe like all other possessive pronouns (my, your, his, her, our, and their)."

Problem is, the rule's wrong. Most pronouns do spell their possessives with an apostrophe. To wit:

Someone's hat is on the chair.
One's mind must always be focuses.
Whoever's coat is in the hall better pick it up.

By the rule above, these possessive pronouns should be spelled without apostrophes.

"Oh", but you say, "it's not any pronouns; it's just personal pronouns you don't use the apostrophe with. All other pronouns you use the apostrophe. It's still a simple rule."

And it's still wrong. It doesn't account for the word "who", which is not a personal pronoun yet spells its possessive ("whose") without an apostrophe. The only way to account for both "it" and "who" is to make a complex rule, one with at least two conditions.

"Ok," you argue, "but it's still a pretty simple rule: don't use an apostrophe for personal pronouns or interrogative pronouns."

Don't forget that "who" can also be a relative pronoun.

"...or relative pronouns."

Now it has three conditions, and it's still wrong. To wit:

The computer that's turned on is wasting power.

True, it's probably not the best style, but it's perfectly intelligible and would not ever be spelled without the apostrophe. (And don't give me any Chomsky bull about "that" being a relativizer here and not a relative pronoun; if it were a relativizer this sentence wouldn't be intelligible.)

"Ok, fine", you say, "everything except 'it' and 'who' uses an apostrophe."

Now you've forgotten about the other personal pronouns."

"Everything except personal pronouns and 'who' uses an apostrophe."

Ah, finally we have a rule that works. It's a little ugly because one condition is a class of words and the other is a singular exception, but it's relatively simple and no actual reader or writer would have difficulty applying it. It's not the end of the universe. But the thing is, it's needlessly complex. If we could spell "its" and "whose" with apostrophes, then we would only need a simple rule with one condition: a word who's possessive is regular spells it's possessive with an apostrophe.

But, English orthography, being what is is, has to make things complex for us, even simple things like spelling possessive pronouns.

Tags: apostrophe, apostrophe_rule, spelling
Last Edited: 29 October 2010, 3:16 AM
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Proof the economy is struggling

I recently made my resumes public on and (I am not looking for another job at the moment. It's just that my company annouced that it would soon be laying off 500 employees. I don't expect to be one of them but if they're laying off, I can activate by resume. C'est la vie in the aerospace industry.)

I've ignored all the messages so far (except for one guy who was kind enough to have read by Open Letter to Recruiters so I figured I should at least write him back to tell him I wasn't interested).

  1. I'm only getting about one message a day instead of five or so.
  2. When I ignore their messages, the recruiters don't follow up asking me why I haven't responded to them.
  3. I've actually gotten a few solicitations for jobs I'd be a perfect fit for. That has never happened, not once, in all my job hunts.

Point is, with less demand for workers, the recruiters are taking the time to screen and deliver good candidates to the customer, rather than shoveling in large quantities of them. And when business chooses quality over quantity, you know the economy is not doing well.

Tags: economy, job_recruiters
Last Edited: 25 October 2010, 5:19 PM
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Let's stop this urban nuisance

I want to talk about a problem, a problem that exists everywhere, but is a problem especially prevalent in certain urban areas, one of the worst being my home, Santa Monica.

Walking around downtown Santa Monica, I encounter an insidious nuisance seemingly every day. They stand there on the street, lurking, eyeing you up, waiting for you to pass. Then they strike, they confront you, they ask if you can spare something, and if you don't they run a guilt trip on you.

Now, I personally never give these people a damn thing. In fact, I don't even acknowledge or look at them, when they greet me I walk right by them as if they didn't exist. This is the only effective way to combat these people. Giving them what they ask for only encourages them, and rewards them for being a nuisance.

Unfortunately, the law can't help us here. It's politically incorrect and possibly unconstitutional to ban this nuisance behavior, although many communities have enacted laws to limit it. Therefore, the only way to stop this is by a concerted community effort.

And that's why I am calling all people, especially my fellow residents of Santa Monica: let's put a stop to this. Let's stop rewarding these people for being a nuisances. Let's stop being enablers. Ignore them. Just walk past them. Don't sign their petitions. Don't even lift your hands to accept the literature they're trying to hand you. Let's show these activists they're not wanted. Let's....

Wait, you thought I was talking about the homeless, didn't you? Oh, no, no, no. The homeless are kind of a nuisance, yes, but that's because they are mentally ill or mentally handicapped, or both, and feel forced to live that lifestyle because of the way our cruel world treats them. I don't give then any change, becase it doesn't really doesn't help them, but I do pledge a dollar to homeless charities every time a homeless person hits me up for change.

Activists, however, are a nuisance because they're assholes. So, yeah, to hell with them. Pay them no heed. Or if you can't ignore them, tell them shove their hemp coffee mugs somewhere.

Tags: activists, homeless, santa_monica
Last Edited: 9 October 2010, 11:40 PM
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